Turkey – India relations reach new heights: Interview with Turkish Ambassador Burak Akçapar
Turkey and India enjoy warm and friendly relations and share a close historical relationship with strong cultural links. The relationship between Turkey and India has steadily grown year by year in both scope and depth and spans many different areas of cooperation. Both countries are committed to deepening bilateral trade and investment and will continue to work together and collaborate even further.
In an exclusive interview with The Diplomatic Society, Turkish Ambassador to India His Excellency Burak Akçapar spoke to Srimal Fernando, Global Editor. In the interview Ambassador Akçapar shares his thoughts about commonalities in historical and cultural relations between India and Turkey, people to people relations, bilateral trade, tourism and the challenges Turkey is facing at present.
Srimal Fernando (SF): Excellency, can you give a brief background of yourself?
Ambassador Burak Akçapar (Amb): I am a career diplomat who likes to research and write. I have been serving as Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey to India since 2011. I am also accredited as Ambassador to Nepal and Maldives. I was also accredited to Sri Lanka until we opened a resident embassy in Colombo in 2012.
Before Delhi, I served as Deputy Chief of Mission of the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C., as well as at Turkish missions in Qatar and Germany as well as the NATO International Secretariat in varying capacities.
I have been awarded the academic rank of Associate Professor of International Relations by the Turkish Higher Education Board. I have completed a variety of academic degrees and executive training programs at a number of colleges and universities in Turkey, Germany and the United States as well as the Turkish Diplomatic Academy. I have received my Dr.Iur/Ph.D at the University of Hamburg, School of Law II with High Distinction (magna cum laude). I have also been awarded an Honorary Doctorate in International Relations and Diplomacy from Rai University in Gujarat.
I have authored three books, several book chapters and academic articles on a range of topics. My latest book, published by the Oxford University Press last year, is entitled “People’s Mission to the Ottoman Empire: MA Ansari and the Indian Medical Mission, 1912-1913.”
I am married to social anthropologist Professor Şebnem Akçapar. We have one son.
SF: Excellency, this is your fourth year of stay as the Turkish Ambassador in India, how do you feel working in India?
Amb: Throughout my tenure, I have been pleased and honoured by the very warm reception that I have been accorded by Indians from all quarters, meeting countless Indians in my extensive travels around the country. Many have went to great lengths in expressing, in characteristically Indian eloquence and warmth, this innate sympathy towards Turkey and Turkish culture.
I was stopped by sympathetic Indians at airports, restaurants, shopping malls, mosques and museums who either told me about their visit to Istanbul or their strong wish to travel to Turkey. I believe that this sympathy is innate and it is a distillation of generations-long interaction between Turkey and India.
It is an honour to represent Turkey in India, Nepal and Maldives.
SF: As the Turkish Ambassador in India, what is your opinion about India and about the other South Asian countries?
Amb: I believe that tremendous potential for development exists in this part of the world. In order to fulfil this much needs to be done to fill a broad range of governance and infrastructure gaps.
Turkey is friendly with all countries in the region and also wants to be seen as a partner in South Asia. To that end we have sought observer status in the SAARC.
Turkey wishes to foster good relations with all countries in South Asia on the principle of mutual respect, mutual benefit and friendship.
India is a rising regional power with global outreach capacities, carrying a huge potential with its 1.3 billion people and one of the fastest growing economies among emerging markets. Turkey and India enjoy excellent bilateral relations and is bound by a Treaty of Friendship.
SF: How can Indians and other South Asians establish relations with Turkey at people-to-people level? What are the factors that will contribute to enhance their relations?
Amb: Our peoples share commonalities in historical and cultural heritage. The exchange of ideas arising from historical contacts between the two peoples has resulted in some 9000 common words in Hindustani, Urdu and Turkish, even though the two languages belong to completely different language families.
We believe that tourism and business are the most suitable tools at our disposal to promote intensified people-to-people contacts. As such, we have been lobbying the Indian government to allow the steps required in order to increase tourism and business. This includes increasing direct flights between the two countries.
SF: The bilateral trade between India and Turkey has seen a marked improvement in recent years. What role does the Embassy of Turkey in India play to improve these trade relations further?
Amb: Enhanced economic ties, particularly in civil aviation, commerce and tourism are key elements to intensify engagement between the two countries. The last decade has witnessed remarkable development in the trade and investment ties between Turkey and India. The bilateral trade stands at USD 7.5 billion. This is mostly Turkish imports of some basic inputs to our gigantic manufacturing sector. As such the current trade structure and volume reflect the minimum that two G-20 economies that have a combined GDP of almost 3 trillion USD can do without any leadership from the government and bureaucracy. The bilateral trade volume with India can increase to over $20 billion in the next decade, only if we start acting at governmental level.
The Turkish Government has been asking India to pursue various options that can be instrumental in sustainably increasing and diversifying the trade volume between the two countries.
SF: There have been new trends in tourist arrivals to India and other South Asian countries that give much expectation for the industry in India and in South Asia. What are your thoughts of selling Turkey to these tourism markets?
Amb: Turkey is exceptionally well placed in global tourism. Hosting more than 39 million tourists annually Turkey is the 4th most popular tourist destination in Europe and 6th most popular in the world.
What makes our job in India easy is that Indian nationals who have visited Turkey do our advertising based on their positive experiences. Our e-visa facility also helps significantly.
Despite all the interest and curiosity towards India in the Turkish public, tourism from Turkey to India remains relatively low. Visa on arrival and e-visa applications could help pick up the figures. We also need to increase air connectivity. If given additional frequencies and destinations in India, Turkish Airlines will definitely help overall Indian tourism figures more than any other airline, given its unique network.
SF: Over the last two decades, India and other South Asian countries widened their maritime and civil aviation connectivity with the rest of the world. How can the Embassy of Turkey in India support these countries to develop their connectivity further?
Amb: Connecting with Turkish carriers provides for the opportunity to benefit from the world’s biggest airline network. No airline has the network diversity that Turkish carriers already possess. So if you want more tourists and business-persons to come to your country and city the best way is to lobby Turkish carriers to fly directly. The city of Istanbul is now building the world’s number one airport and connecting directly with Istanbul means connecting with the rest of the world with one stop. No airline, and I mean no airline, has this same capability.
SF: What do you expect from the Indian government?
Amb: First and foremost, we are hoping that the leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister of India Mr. Narendra Modi would take action to clear the backlog of ossified yet fundamentally required set of policies that would enable our trade and tourism to soar. Then, the road will be clearer for more ambitious joint visions and projects.
SF: What are the challenges Turkey is facing at present?
Amb: There is a civil war raging in Turkey’s southern neighbour Syria since 2011, which has so far claimed three hundred and fifty thousand lives, caused displacement of more than half of the country’s 20 million population and more than 5 million Syrians seeking shelter from the war in other countries. Current total number of Syrian nationals seeking shelter in Turkey is around 2.2 million. Turkey has adopted and pursued an open-door policy for Syrian nationals escaping from the atrocities of war since the beginning of this conflict.
Turkey considers Syria’s territorial integrity as a fundamental issue. The only way to maintain Syria’s unity is to establish a non-sectarian, multicultural, secular democratic governance system. Disintegration of Syrian territory along sectarian and ethnic fault lines only enables extremists and creates fertile ground for terror groups such as DAESH. Turkey is active in the fight against the DAESH terror organization.
PKK is another terrorist organisation targeting the unity and fraternity of the population in Turkey for its malignant and confused purposes. Although it has the capacity to achieve nothing at all it still causes discomfort.
SF: How can other countries support your country to overcome these challenges?
Amb: Terror is a global scourge and a crime against humanity. We need global cooperation to deal with terrorism. But, the question is actually larger than what Turkey needs to overcome certain challenges.
In Syria we have seen the failure of the global political, security and humanitarian systems and orders. Faulty in design and at any rate long out of synch with the contemporary world the UNSC has proven yet again to be inept in fulfilling its tasks. Some countries have read the UN Charter selectively as if the principle of respect to sovereignty is giving a license to mass murder people. Only a few neighboring countries have had to burden the entire share of the human displacement caused by the Syrian government and the terror outfits. We cannot allow these weaknesses as manifested in the Syrian case metastatize and spread. The world needs to revive a contract that puts human security and wellbeing at the core of international relations. I hope that the coming World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the first ever, will take us in that direction.
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